Voices from the Road

Driving 13,000 miles across the country with a renovated 1956 Airstream

We found our 22-foot 1956 Airstream in the little town of Marion, Kansas. After towing it home to Florida, my wife and I started on a 3-year renovation project. We decided not to restore it, exactly, but to design something we could live in for an extended period of time. This was a “shell off the frame” rebuild. As we tell everyone who asks, it’s all original outside with nothing original inside. 

Living on a barrier island is terrific for most of the year. However, every once in a while the mountains start calling and we have to answer. Audrey (our trailer, named after my mother-in-law, who always wanted to travel) was going to take us to the Southwest.

We knew that we were going to travel at least 10,000 miles and wanted to be comfortable in our tow vehicle. After a lot of research, we chose a 2021 Dodge Ram 1500 LTD—it’s a great vehicle for towing, however it’s a little too big to do any serious off-roading.

a gray truck and a silver airstream are parked under a pink sky at a campsite

Destination: unknown

Our only pre-planned destination was Texas’ Big Bend National Park; beyond that it was one month at a time and destination unknown. The one thing we did agree on was to try and make our travel days 200 miles or less, and to stay in each place for a minimum of 4 days. 

When we got to different campgrounds we spoke to other RVers, gleaned information, and made plans from their recommendations. We camped mostly in recommended full-service campgrounds (Campendium was very helpful) and made reservations in advance—a must if staying for more than one night. Knowing that we were going to be out on the road for months we only boondocked occasionally. During 150 days on the road, we never once said to each other, “Let’s go find a hotel.”

We had two goals on this trip: to hike trails and stay away from the most popular national parks. With this in mind, we spent a month in Texas exploring Big Bend, Davis Mountains State Park, and quirky small towns, including Marfa, a filming location for James Dean’s last movie, Giant

People think that Texas is flat, hot, and dusty—some of that is true, but the state also has its share of beautiful mountain ranges and excellent state campgrounds. 

No guardrails

After Texas we headed north to New Mexico, a state with amazing topography, beautiful cloud formations, deserts, mountains, White Sands National Park, and a lot of history. New Mexico easily entertained us for 6 weeks, with stops at Chaco Canyon, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. We attended an honest to goodness rodeo in Silver City, and a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display in Chama. We also made it a point to visit Smokey Bear Historical Park and Billy the Kid historical sights. 

Leaving New Mexico, we crossed into Colorado at Durango and had our first bout of panic as I towed our trailer up the Million Dollar Highway. My wife and I agreed that looking down 1,000 feet with no guardrail certainly brought up the stress factor. We survived and spent the next month and a half crisscrossing the Four Corners area. Hiking in the Southwest provided great beauty and variety. New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona featured huge red rock formations, while Colorado has granite rocks and a lot of trees. The aspens were stunning with their golden glow at the end of September.

In Colorado, we ate some of the best peaches we’ve had (sorry, Georgia). The town of Palisade, the peach capital of Colorado, is also home to some of the best wineries in the state. We camped surrounded by orchards, with the Grand Mesa as the backdrop.

an airstream and a truck parked at a campsite under a sky of stars

Staying around the Four Corners offered plenty of opportunities to hike different terrains and to explore parts of the Navajo nation, including the spectacular Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley. We stayed in the small town of Monticello, Utah, which offered us the opportunity to hike and visit seven of the 12 national parks and monuments that surround the town.

Staying in RV campgrounds and state parks gave us the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of different folks, many of who were living in their RVs full time. 

As October began to approach, and the temperatures in Colorado started dipping into the 40s at night, we decided that it was time to take Audrey back to the Sunshine State and warmer weather. The journey back was not meant to be a mad dash home, but a relaxing drive where we hoped to catch some of the things we had missed on the way back.

a rock inscribed with petroglyphs

For us, the biggest surprise was the city of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, world headquarters of Phillips Petroleum and the Phillips 66 gas stations. The Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve has a wonderful collection of art and artifacts and one of the largest collections of Colt firearms in the world. 

When we finally arrived back to our home in Florida, we had traveled a total of 13,000 truck miles and 6,300 trailer miles. We were out on the road for a total of 5 months and stayed in 43 different campgrounds. People ask us if we would do it again, and we say, “Heck yes!” We’re already planning our 2022 trip.

Roadtrippers is part of a joint venture, partially owned by Thor Industries, Inc., of which Airstream is a subsidiary.

Meet the Roadtripper

Terry and Sharon Kent